Posts Tagged "Jacob Wetterling"

“Catch Me If You Can”

I have some new information to share about the wood-paneled station wagon that I just learned about this past weekend. If you recall, this is the car that was seen by the young teens who used to ride their dirt bikes and 4-wheelers through the woods near Jacob’s abduction site. The gentleman I spoke to this weekend was also a part of this group, and he had a few more interesting tidbits to share about the station wagon and the man in the woods.

First of all, I believe we have two different sightings here, possibly three. As I reported in my original post titled, “The men in the woods,” this group of boys saw an older man with a notebook sitting off in the brush, just inside the entrance to the woods. They didn’t think much of it and proceeded on to the party pit to have a quick smoke. On their way out, they saw him again. He had moved closer to them at that point, and they wondered if maybe he had been following them.

Another member of this group reported seeing another man in the woods… this time up in a tree. He said he was younger and thinner than the first man. He wore a baseball cap and had a clipboard. The boys saw the man while they were riding their dirt bikes through the woods that day. Later, they noticed him again, but this time he had moved to a different tree. Weird.

The gentleman I spoke to this weekend had more to add to the story. He used to live south of St. Ben’s, just off College Avenue. He says he and his friends used to ride their dirt bikes and four-wheelers in those woods nearly every day. He also remembers seeing a guy up in a tree, but the man he remembers seeing was older, possibly in his 50s. He was wearing a blaze orange hat and was definitely not an art student. This guy seemed out of place, like he didn’t belong there, and none of the kids had ever seen him before.

There are two interesting things this young man was able to add to the story. First, he says there was a field road that ran from College Avenue (just across from the cemetery) all the way over to 16th/91st Avenue. It ran along the south end of Klinefelter Park and was a straight shot all the way to the abduction site. Another interesting thing this guy remembers is about the car. On the day he saw it, it was parked just off 16th/91st Avenue on the approach/field road which would later become Dale Street. He remembers the car being light blue, possibly a station wagon, but he couldn’t remember if it had wood panels or not. What he DOES remember seems significant. The car had two distinct bumper stickers. One said something about Ole and Lena; the other said, “Catch Me If You Can.”

OK… back it up a bit.

1989-catch-me-if-you-can-poster1Catch Me If You Can was a Hollywood movie that was filmed in the St. Cloud area during the fall of 1988. It was directed by Stephen Sommers, a St. Cloud native, and pre-premiered there on August 24, 1989. It’s a low-budget “muscle car” film about a group of high school teens who are trying to raise money and save their school by betting on illegal car races. Much of the footage was filmed at Apollo and Cathedral High Schools, and included several local residents who served as extras in the movie. The film officially premiered to a national audience on October 14, 1989, just eight days before Jacob’s abduction. (Click the movie poster on the right to read more about the film.)

The interesting thing is… two months after Jacob’s abduction, police asked for the public’s help in finding a station wagon with a “Catch Me If You Can” bumper sticker that was seen near the Wetterling’s residence in the days just prior to Jacob’s abduction.

All three of the following newspaper articles were published on December 22, 1989:

From the St. Cloud Times:

The Jacob Wetterling Task Force also is trying to find a suspicious car that was seen in the St. Joseph area about a week before Jacob, 11, was seized Oct. 22 at gunpoint.

The car recently came to authorities’ attention after residents of an apartment building near the Wetterlings said they had seen the car parked for most of a day. Because it was about two months ago, they couldn’t provide an exact day, Gigler said.

The car is described as a dark brown, four-door station wagon dating to 1970. It had a luggage rack and considerable rust on the fender and doors. The car reportedly had a black and orange sticker that said “Catch Me If You Can.” The movie was filmed in the St. Cloud area and premiered here last summer.

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

In another development yesterday, investigators were trying to locate a 1970s-model full-sized four-door station wagon seen three days before Jacob’s abduction on the rural road where he was kidnapped.

The dark brown station wagon is said to have a luggage rack and a missing molding on the passenger side. A rear bumper sticker reads, “Catch me if you can,” an apparent reference to the title of a movie shot two years ago in St. Cloud.

“We feel that with the bumper sticker it’s a local vehicle,” Gigler said. A bulletin was sent yesterday to alert police agencies to look for the car.

From the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

In a related development, authorities said they are looking for a full-size, brown, 1970s 4-door model station wagon seen in the woods west of the Wetterling abduction site three days before the kidnapping. The car did not belong to anyone in the neighborhood and police want to question its owner, Gigler said.

The wagon had a luggage rack, missing body molding on the passenger side and a rear bumper sticker that read, “Catch Me If You Can,” a reference to a movie of the same name filmed in St. Cloud. The movie previewed in St. Cloud this August, leading police to believe the car belongs to an area resident. St. Cloud is about 6 miles east of St. Joseph.

I’m unclear whether this lead about the station wagon came from the boys who witnessed the man/men in the woods, or if it came from another source. I’m curious whether the “dark brown” station wagon was confused with the “dark brown wood panels” that the boys remember.

At any rate, my main question is this. Where did these bumper stickers come from? Were they handed out at the private premiere in August? Or, maybe later, at the public premiere on October 14th? Or, maybe they were handed out during the filming of the movie, back in November of 1988? Where were they printed? Where were they distributed? At the high schools? Movie theaters? Convenience stores? Does anyone else remember getting or having one of these bumper stickers? If we can figure out that much, maybe we can figure out where the driver of the car got his bumper sticker.

And one more question… does anyone know which apartment building the police were talking about in the St. Cloud Times article above? If this is the same station wagon that the boys saw down by the woods, I wonder what he was doing at that apartment building. Did he live there? Or was he just staying with an acquaintance?

A little help here… please comment!

#ThinkingJacob

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“A Lifetime Lesson”

I recently received a message on my blog from the mother of a boy who was involved in one of the attempted abductions in Paynesville. He had written a paper about the incident for his English class during his senior year of high school. His mom had recently come across it, so she sent me a copy. I contacted the young man who wrote it to ask if he would allow me to post it on my blog, and he graciously agreed.

This is not a new incident. I originally reported this young man’s story last June in a post titled, “Another incident and some exciting news.” However, at that time, this young man was trying to remember details from 1996, almost twenty years ago. This paper was written only five years after the incident, so it not only provides important details, it also gives us a little better idea of when the incident may have taken place. He states in the paper that he was about 12 years old and he was helping his wrestling coach teach Jaycee Wrestling. Since the Jaycee Wrestling program was for kids in grades one to six, it would stand to reason that this young man was a 7th grader at the time, and because it was mid-March, his wrestling season had already ended. That would put the date as March 1992.

This presents a bit of a conundrum. This incident would have taken place much later than the other incidents that occurred between 1986-1989. It would also mean that convicted child molestor Duane Hart, who was arrested in January 1990, could not have been involved since he was already behind bars. (See my previous post, “An early suspect.”)

So where does that leave us? Are all these incidents related? Or were there several different pedophiles who were stalking boys in the Paynesville area?

Read the paper and see if you have any insights.

A Lifetime Lesson

It was a mid March day and everything was going great. School was over for the day and I was going to help Coach Virg teach Jaycee Wrestling. This consists of grades one to six. I helped Virg teach some moves by demonstrating them on him. Then I would go around and help the kids do a move on their friend. Little did I know that I was about to face the scariest moment of my life, one that would make an everlasting impression.

Soon it was five o’clock and time to go. Everyone put their street clothes back on and headed outside to be picked up by their parents. I stayed there and waited for every kid to get picked up. One kid didn’t get picked up for a long time, so we both headed back into the school to use the phone so he could call his parents. Suddenly I was thinking, “Where’s MY dad?” He was supposed to pick me up, too. The boy I was helping called his house but no one was home. He started to cry and said, “They forgot about me and I’m going to be here all night.” I told him since they weren’t home, maybe they were on their way or were even there now. We walked back outside. As we stepped out the door, his ride pulled up. He told me he was sorry and left.

But now what? My dad still wasn’t there and the phone was always busy. It was starting to get darker by the second. You also have to understand that I was only about twelve years old. I sat and waited, and waited, and waited. He still didn’t show up. Something else was sort of peculiar, too. I spotted a car that continuously drove very slowly around the block. I bet it went around at least ten times. It was not an average looking car. It was a very beat up army green colored car with a white fabric top and tons of rust on the lower section. It looked as though this lower portion could just crumble if it would hit a bump in the road.

The car drover slower and slower each time it went around, and as it came towards me, I noticed the driver stared directly at me. I didn’t know if he was going to ask for directions or just what exactly he was doing.

This was around the time there had been talk of several abductions, attempted abductions, and molestings. I was getting so scared. I was saying to myself, “Dad hurry up, hurry up,” as if he would really hear me. The car went around one last time and finally took a turn into an alley. I was so happy, or I guess you could say relieved. But then about five minutes later, I saw a guy walking down the sidewalk toward me. Now I was really ready to crap in my pants.

Because the car with the strange man was no longer lurking around, all I could imagine was that this was the same man who had just turned his car into the alley. The only thing I could think to do was walk to my cousin’s house, which was only about a block away. That could possibly be a bad idea, too. But I couldn’t just stand there either, so I proceeded on my way. Just by the use of my peripheral vision and by the sound of the movement on the sidewalk, I knew the guy was right behind me. Every time I sped up my pace, I could hear by his footsteps that he did, too. I was never so scared in my life. When my mind actually understood what could be going on, I took off running as fast as my legs could go. I no longer heard anything that was going on around me. I didn’t even know if he was still right behind me. I probably reached my cousin’s house in about thirty seconds, but it felt like ten minutes. I was so glad I didn’t have to go any further.

When I reached my cousin’s house, I dashed inside, peeked out the door, and saw a fairly short guy with a medium build continue to walk by. He didn’t seem to be paying any special attention to anything, just briskly walking by. I wondered if he saw where I darted into and hoped he wouldn’t bother anyone there later. Oddly enough, it wasn’t really cold, but he had a black face mask on and he seemed to be dressed all in black. I just got the shivers.

I tried calling my dad again to see what was going on, finally got him, and told him to pick me up. Actually, I said, “Where in the hell are you?” Somehow there had been some misunderstanding. I was safe, but I just couldn’t explain the fear that was still going through my body. I actually felt sick as I pictured all the things that could have happened.

Mom and dad were also shook up when I told them what happened, and when my dad finally picked me up, we went straight to Officer Drager’s house. I had to tell him everything that happened and try to describe what I saw. He was supposed to meet me again to get an actual statement, but that was the end of it. Not much else was ever said about the whole issue. My parents and I did drive around for a short time that evening to see if we could spot the man or the green car. We never had any luck.

I told several friends, and my parents told some of theirs, just for precautionary measures. The worst part was they all sort of just blew us off. I knew if it had been them (especially since there had been so much talk about abductions at the time), they would have felt differently. My parents even began to see why things like this continue to happen. People don’t take warnings seriously enough until it’s too late. My whole family was shook up for quite some time just realizing how lucky we may have been and appreciating each other even more. That may sound sort of weird to others, until it happens to them.

At any rate, I didn’t do much walking alone at night for even short distances for quite some time. I’m a much more cautious person. Even now when I run to the high school from my home, my mother makes me call when I get there. She says, “You just never know if there is a real problem and you wait, you’ve already made circumstances worse by wasting that time thinking nothing is wrong. I forgot to call the other night when I ran out to the school because I got distracted as soon as I walked in the door. My mom almost had a heart attack. She even sent dad out there to look for me, just to make sure. I guess some lessons learned actually last a lifetime.

The young man who wrote this paper also provided me with a map that shows where he was standing outside the school, where the man pulled into the alley, and which direction the man came from when he started walking toward him.

Here’s the map:

Click to view a larger version

Click to view a larger version

One final thing. I happened to be driving through Paynesville with a friend last weekend, on our way to St. Cloud. We pulled off the new bypass to stop and get gas, and ended up driving through town to get back onto Highway 23. As we neared the main drag downtown, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Jacob’s billboard that was placed last October was still up, now six months later.

Way to go, Paynesville.

Click to view a larger version

Click to view a larger version

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A 12th Paynesville incident

If you read my last post, “The party in the woods – Part 2,” you’ll remember there was a balding, gray-haired man who was seen near the party spot in the woods, quite possibly on the same day as Jacob’s abduction. A group of young teenage boys witnessed this man who was taking notes in a notebook and acting suspiciously. After the abduction, two of the boys were interviewed by the FBI at school, then taken to the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office where they each worked with a sketch artist to create two separate drawings of this man. As far as I can tell, these sketches were never released to the public.

In response to that post, I received a message on my blog from another young man who wanted me to get in touch with a friend of his. This friend had grown up in Paynesville and had experienced another possible abduction attempt by someone who sounded eerily familiar… a balding, gray-haired man who was driving a wood-paneled station wagon.

Here’s his story.

During the summer of 1989 or 1990, two young boys, ages seven or eight, were riding their bikes just a few blocks from home. They were near the corner of Minnesota Street and Stearns Avenue (just west of the middle school) when a man driving a light silver or tan wood-paneled station wagon pulled up and tried to get them into his car. First he offered them candy, then money, then he said he had “something fun” he wanted to show them. They took off on their bikes and headed home in a panic. Neither of their parents were home, so they went went to a neighbor’s house and reported what they had seen. The neighbor called the police, and they came to the house to take a statement.

I was curious whether this statement still existed, so I contacted both the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office and the Paynesville Police Department. No go. Neither could find the statement, but this is not unusual. The state retention policy for offense reports is only seven years (from what I can gather), so once the retention period has expired, the records can be legally destroyed. However, what DOES seem unusual to me is that none of these statements seem to have found their way into either Jacob’s or Jared’s case file. Why? Yes, some of these victims were re-interviewed AFTER Jacob’s disappearance and THOSE reports exist, but what happened to the original statements? Why weren’t those retained?

In light of this new information, we now have twelve separate Paynesville incidents, and it’s starting to get a little confusing as to which one is which. So, I took some time to revisit my Google map this afternoon and update it a bit. In addition to the date and location of each incident, I have now added all the details to the long description of each marker. Simply click a marker to view the details of each incident.

You may notice there are only 10 markers, but 12 incidents. That’s because I believe we are still missing the details from two of the five incidents that were originally reported in the May 26, 1987 article of the Paynesville Press.

If you recall, there were two incidents that were reported by the Paynesville Press on December 9, 1986. The dates of those incidents were August 1986 and November 30, 1986. In both cases, the victims were attacked from behind and verbally threatened. The second victim was sexually assaulted. I know which one occurred on November 30, 1986, but I believe I’m missing the one from August 1986.

The next article that was published on May 26, 1987 mentioned five cases, so I assume the two cases from August and November 1986 were included in those five. But, in trying to match up witness accounts with the paper’s timeline, it doesn’t jive. I believe we are still missing two additional incidents that took place “by the river,” and “at the middle school playground.” I also believe the June 1986 incident was not included in either newspaper article. If you or someone you know has any information about further incidents that occurred in or around the Paynesville area, please email me using the Contact form on this blog. You may also contact the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.

I hope to report some new details soon about one of the incidents I had previously written about. In the meantime, here’s my updated map for the Paynesville Incidents. Thanks for #ThinkingJacob.

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The party in the woods – Part 2

I have an update to my last blog post — “The party in the woods.” It was about a high school party that took place on the same weekend Jacob Wetterling was abducted, in the woods just northwest of the abduction site.

When I received the original message from a young man who had been at the party that night, he told me he was fairly certain it had taken place on the same night as the abduction… Sunday, October 22nd, 1989. However, he wasn’t entirely sure and encouraged me to contact other members from his graduating class to corroborate his story.

So, that’s what I did. I put the word out and heard back from several classmates who all remember being at a party in the woods that weekend, but they are sure it took place on Saturday night (the night before the abduction), not Sunday, October 22nd. They also added that the party spot was on the west side of 16th Avenue, not on the east side, as the original commenter had reported. They do, however, remember the police breaking up the party that night. Kids scattered in all directions… some on foot, and some in cars… all racing to get out of there before they got caught.

When I reported this information back to my original commenter, here was his response:

“I am glad you are getting some more responses on the party, and I am glad it is getting cleared up. I am sure that my classmates’ memories might be better than mine, so if others say the party was on the west side on Saturday night, I am probably the one who is mistaken. I am quite sure about one thing. Someone from Law Enforcement interviewed several of us at Apollo High School soon after the abduction. It could have been Tuesday or Wednesday, but it did happen at school. I thought they were from the FBI, but I could be wrong. I do not remember them in any uniforms, but rather in business suits, and there were at least two of them and they used one of the offices of the front school offices. These were not school officials or anything like that, as we had never seen any of them before. I called to try and locate any statements regarding this from both the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI in St. Cloud, but neither of them had any record of talking with us nor of breaking up the party. I find it odd that no one kept any record of our interviews unless they were deemed so inconsequential that no records were formally kept.”

So far, I haven’t been able to find anyone else who remembers being interviewed at school by Law Enforcement later that week. That is… except for the young men I interviewed for a previous blog post – “The men in the woods.”

If you recall, these young men had been walking/riding through the woods that same weekend when they noticed an older, balding, gray-haired man who was sitting off in the brush by himself and appeared to be taking notes in a notebook. The man’s car (or what they assumed to be his car) was parked just outside the entrance to the woods. It was a wood-paneled station wagon.

I decided to call these young men back to see if they could help me put together a more detailed map that showed exactly where the party spot was, where the balding, gray-haired man had been sitting, and where his station wagon was parked.

Here’s the new information I learned:

  • They remember seeing the balding, gray-haired man being right near the entrance of the woods. They were young, middle school teens and were on their way to sneak a smoke at the party spot. Some were on foot, some were on bikes, and one was driving a Honda Odyssey ATV (like a go-kart with a roll cage). They all saw the guy with the notebook about 10-20 feet into the woods. He was sitting on a log and writing stuff down in a notebook, but they didn’t think much of it and just kept on walking. However, on their way back out, they noticed the guy had moved closer to them, and was now more in the middle of the woods when they passed him the second time.
  • The station wagon was parked on the gravel road just north of the woods. They’re not sure on the color of the station wagon… they just remember the wood panels.
  • I asked them which day they saw this man. Again, they weren’t sure, but they think this happened on Sunday during the day, which would have been the same day as Jacob’s abduction.

With their help, I was able to put together an updated map which shows the area in 1991. As a comparison, see the map below which shows the same area in 2013. (Click the images to see a larger view.)

Map_AbductionSite_1991_rev

Map_AbductionSite_2013_rev

So… is any of this significant? I’m not sure. But, here are two things to consider.

First, the woods just north and west of Jacob’s abduction site were a happening place. During the day, it was a common spot for kids to explore, ride their bikes, or sneak a smoke. During the evening, it was a party spot for kids from all four area high schools — Apollo, Tech, Cathedral, and St. John’s Prep. Also, keep in mind, this was the same spot where Trevor and Aaron were told to “Run toward the woods and don’t look back or I’ll shoot.” These are those woods.

Second, I recently learned about another incidence of a possible abduction that took place in Paynesville during 1989 or 1990. And get this… it involved a balding, gray-haired man who was driving a wood-paneled station wagon.

More on that next time.

#ThinkingJacob

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A podcast interview with Jared

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Jared to review this past year… which was a wild one for both of us. What started as a casual meeting over beer and pizza in August of 2013 ballooned into a widespread investigation, with media coverage that far exceeded either of our wildest imaginations.

We met five days after the 26th anniversary of his abduction from Cold Spring, Minnesota which took place on January 13th, 1989. It was just nine months before Jacob Wetterling’s abduction on October 22nd of the same year, and because of their similarities, investigators have always indicated that the two cases are likely connected.

But, rather than just write Jared’s story, I decided to try something a little different this time. I wanted to get Jared talking in his own words for two reasons… one, because I believe he has an important story to tell… and two, because I wanted to give credit where credit is due. His willingness to share his story, talk to victims, and work with law enforcement to kick-start this investigation has brought a renewed energy to not only his own case, but to Jacob’s and the Paynesville cases, as well.

So, without further ado… here’s the first official podcast from joy.the.curious.

(Brought to you by Mail Chimp. Haha.)

https://soundcloud.com/joy-the-curious/podcast-january-18-2015

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